1969: We Have Liftoff in Queens
The season began with a loss to the brand-new Montreal Expos, the Mets’ eighth straight opening-day defeat. And the situation grew only worse. At the end of April, the Mets were 9-11. On May 27, they were 18-23, in fourth place in the National League East. Off in the distance were the first-place Chicago Cubs.
But the next day, the Mets beat San Diego, 1-0, in a game in which Jerry Koosman struck out 15 batters. That began an 11-game winning streak that left the Mets — yeah, the Mets — with a record of 29-23.
The revolution was on. In early July, the Mets had their first showdown with the Cubs, and Tom Seaver came within two outs of a perfect game. A week later, the Mets took two out of three at Wrigley Field. The Mets were now in second place, just four games out of first.
At which point, the Mets flattened out. On July 30, Manager Gil Hodges even went out to left field to pull Cleon Jones from the game. Jones, he felt, was not hustling.
Hodges was sending a message, but the Mets kept struggling. By mid-August, they were 10 games out.
And then, with Woodstock being staged in the background, the Mets took off. They swept the Padres at Shea in two weekend doubleheaders and began a run in which they would win 38 of their last 49 games of the season, sometimes in stupefying fashion.
There was, for instance, the delirious Aug. 30 game in San Francisco in which the Mets threw out runners at home in the eighth and ninth innings along with another runner at third and then won in the 10th on a home run.
A week later, Manager Leo Durocher and his swooning Cubs arrived at Shea, and the Mets beat them twice, with fans sarcastically serenading Durocher and with a black cat running in front of the Chicago dugout. The next day, the Mets moved into first. Two days later, they won a 1-0, 1-0 doubleheader in Pittsburgh. The starting pitchers drove in both runs.
Three days later, the Mets struck out a record 19 times against Steve Carlton in St. Louis. But so what? They won, anyway, with Ron Swoboda hitting two two-run homers.
The Mets were now pulling away with 15 games to go. The impossible had become the inevitable.
Following are excerpts from New York Times articles in 1969.
SHEA STADIUM, JUNE 3
Milestone for Mets: They’re 24-23
Scaling new heights again, the New York Mets climbed past the break-even point and into second place in the National League East by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2, at Shea Stadium tonight.
Two home runs by Ed Kranepool, a well-placed misplay by the Dodgers, Tom Seaver’s eighth pitching victory and Tug McGraw’s second save marked the historic occasion, which also stretched the current winning streak to six games.
No Met team had ever been above .500 beyond the fourth game of a season. In 1966, and again this year, the Mets won two of their first three games; but in 1966, they lost the next five and this year they lost the next four. Never again did they have more victories than defeats until now, when their record stands at 24-23. LEONARD KOPPETT
Another Milestone: A Series That Matters
It has taken them 7½ years, 439 victories and 771 defeats, but today the Mets finally begin an important series.
At 2:05 p.m. at Shea Stadium, they start a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs, the only team ahead of them in the National League’s Eastern Division.
The bumbling players who opened at the Polo Grounds in 1962 and their masochistic fans would be dizzied by the Mets’ five-game proximity to first place. And the New Yorkers have lost only three more games than the Cubs, the most important measurement between two winning clubs.
Whether sold out or close to it, Shea should be rocking every minute of the series. The Cubs have lost three straight, the Mets have won five straight and Gil Hodges of the Mets and Leo Durocher of the Cubs have set up their best pitchers for the series. GEORGE VECSEY
SHEA STADIUM, July 9
Seaver Comes Within 2 Outs of Perfection
Tom Seaver of the Mets thrilled the biggest baseball crowd in Shea Stadium history tonight by coming within two outs of pitching a perfect game.
Jim Qualls, a rookie outfielder of the Chicago Cubs, drilled a solid single in the ninth that disappointed Seaver and the 59,083 fans who were quivering with every pitch.
Seaver finished with a one-hitter and a 4-0 victory that narrowed the Cubs’ division lead over the Mets to three games.
The Mets have won seven straight and the Cubs have lost five straight. And after the near-perfect game, who knows where these opposite kinds of momentum might lead?
The Mets were loose and confident going into the game because their best pitcher was going to work. The 24-year-old, right-handed Seaver, a fine athlete, had won 13 games and lost 3.
But two hours later, the Mets and their fans wanted much more than victory No. 14. They wanted perfection and the first no-hitter by a Met, and they cheered madly for every Cub out.
The first batter in the ninth was Randy Hundley, the experienced catcher. He tried to bunt a high pitch, but the ball rolled to Seaver’s right and Seaver threw Hundley out at first. The fans, ever sensitive, booed Hundley for having tried to bunt Seaver out of a perfect game.
The 22-year-old Qualls, a switch-hitter batting left-handed in his 18th major league game, was the next batter. Seaver wanted to keep the ball outside to him, but the pitch strayed a little too close to the plate and Qualls stroked it solidly to left-center, nowhere near Cleon Jones or Tommie Agee. GEORGE VECSEY
Moon or the Mets? In Bars, It’s the Latter
The moon didn’t figure in the conversation — mostly in Spanish — at the Full Moon Bar and Grill at 161st and Broadway. The bar was recently renamed La Luna Llena.
It’s owner, Richard Hauseman, was asked why the customers weren’t following the moon shot on television. “What’s there?” he retorted. “Walter Cronkite talking — that’s all.”
The television sets were on at most other bars, but not for Walter Cronkite or the astronauts. In Chicago, the Mets were ahead of the Cubs, suggesting a miracle that even Jules Verne did not foresee. A bartender was asked whether his customers were more interested in the Mets or the astronauts.
“The Mets, of course,” he said. “Aren’t you?” JOSEPH LELYVELD
The Mets Lose Some of the Magic
The Mets have seen the moment of their greatness flicker, pressing Chicago for the Eastern Division lead before falling back. The fans overreacted, talking World Series, and the national press and broadcasting, who used to come to Shea Stadium to interview the other teams of the National League, trumpeted the emergence of a great new power. Then the Mets lost seven of 11, their first bona fide slump. They also suffered some of the emotional problems of sudden glory.
Last Wednesday afternoon, Hodges pointedly removed Cleon Jones, his best player, from the outfield in the midst of a game, apparently for playing a ball too casually. And then Ron Swoboda, the Mets’ best off-season banquet player, publicly chided the tra-la-la attitude of the club, the lack of intensity. ROBERT LIPSYTE
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 27
12 Wins in 13 Games as Mets Close on Cubs
Jerry Koosman pitched the New York Mets to within two games of first place tonight as he overpowered the San Diego Padres, 4-1, with a two-hitter for the Mets’ sixth straight victory.
He allowed the two hits in the first inning but no more the rest of the game and he faced only 31 batters — four more than the minimum.
The Mets continued past another milestone on their remarkable road several hours after the first-place Chicago Cubs had lost again to the Cincinnati Reds. And by the time the Mets had finished their work tonight, they were all even with Chicago in games lost, and the Cubs’ lead in the Eastern Division rested solely on the fact that they had played — and won — four more times.
The victory was Koosman’s third in a row, and the Mets’ 12th in their last 13 decisions, while the Cubs were dropping eight of 10. It also was No. 74 for the Mets this season, one more than the record total they achieved all of last season, and it was their 11th in a row over San Diego.
The situation at the top of the Eastern Division was growing so sticky that Ernie Banks even telephoned long-distance to San Diego tonight. JOSEPH DURSO
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 30
Walking a High Wire, Mets Win in 10th
The New York Mets survived three hours of thrills — and sometimes terror — and defeated the San Francisco Giants, 3-2, on a 10th-inning home run by Donn Clendenon.
The victory ended the Giants’ winning streak at nine games and kept the Mets 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs, who beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-4.
Clendenon put the finishing touches to the Mets’ afternoon by hitting a 2-1 pitch from Gaylord Perry over the right-field fence with two outs. But he did it only after the Mets lived through two wild innings in the eighth and ninth, during which the Giants put five runners on base — and the Mets threw two of them out at home plate and one at third base. JOSEPH DURSO
SHEA STADIUM, Sept. 9
Seaver Beats Cubs; Mets Get Closer
The New York Mets — the urchins of baseball for the last seven years — shook down the thunder from the sky tonight when they overpowered the Chicago Cubs, 7-1, before 58,436 persons in Shea Stadium.
It was the fourth straight victory for the Mets and the sixth straight defeat for the Cubs, and the urchins moved to within a half game of first place in the National League East with three weeks to go.
The Mets, who have never finished higher than ninth, made the tumultuous scene last night on the five-hit pitching of their prodigy, Tom Seaver. The 25-year-old Californian allowed four singles, one double and one walk, and achieved his 21st victory in the gaudiest season of pitching in Mets history.
He was never behind and rarely was in trouble. And the crowd — which included 51,448 paying customers — spent much of the game on its feet, waving handkerchiefs and serenading Manager Leo Durocher of Chicago with stanzas of “Goodbye, eo.”
Leo might have felt like going, too. JOSEPH DURSO
SHEA STADIUM, Sept. 10
New Chant at Shea: ‘We’re No. 1’
Stop the season!
The New York Mets reached and held first place tonight by sweeping a doubleheader from the Montreal Expos, 3-2 in 12 innings, and 7-1, and it is rank disregard for poetic justice to make them risk this precious attainment through the 21 games that still remain on the schedule.
Nevertheless, the ultimate height has been scaled, after seven humiliating years only partially soothed by laughter, and never again can it be said that the Mets have never been on top. “We’re No. 1, we’re No. 1” chanted the 23,512 in Shea Stadium tonight, and that moment can never be taken away from them or from Met supporters everywhere.
The moment, actually, was 10:13 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time.
This eminence, not even dreamt of for this year when the season began, has been achieved by a four-week hot streak, coinciding with Chicago’s first slump. JOSEPH DURSO
PITTSBURGH, Sept. 12
1-0, 1-0: Mets Win Tight Doubleheader
The galloping New York Mets continued their assault on the establishment of baseball tonight by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates twice by identical scores of 1-0 and running their winning streak to nine games.
They also added half a game to their lead over the Chicago Cubs in the National League’s Eastern Division. The Cubs ended an eight-game losing streak tonight when they beat the St. Louis Cardinals, and they now trail the Mets by 2½ games with less than three weeks to go.
Three pitchers limited the Pirates to eight hits and no runs in the doubleheader. In the opener, Jerry Koosman pitched a three-hitter and, in the second game, Don Cardwell allowed four hits for eight innings and Tug McGraw gave up one in the ninth.
In both games, the starting pitchers also batted themselves to victory — Koosman with a single off Bob Moose in the fifth inning, and Cardwell with a single off Dock Ellis in the second inning.
As a result, the Mets added these features to their high-flying caps with only 18 games left: They won their 24th and 25th games of 31 played since Aug. 13, when they trailed the Chicago Cubs by 10 games; they won their 21st and 22nd shutouts of the season, and their third in a row, and they extended their recent string of shutout innings to 34. JOSEPH DURSO
ST. LOUIS, Sept. 15
Even 19 Strikeouts Can’t Slow the Mets
Steve Carlton of the St. Louis Cardinals set a major league record tonight by striking out 19 New York Mets. But the Mets still won the game, 4-3, on a pair of two-run home runs by Ron Swoboda and extended their lead to 4½ games with 15 to play.
Carlton, a 24-year-old left-hander, struck out the side in four of the nine innings as he surpassed the record of 18 strikeouts set by Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Don Wilson. He even fanned Swoboda twice, on his first and third times at bat.
But on his second and fourth trips to the plate, the Maryland muscleman drove home runs into the left-field seats, both times with a man on base, both times with the Mets trailing by one run.
As a result, the Mets swung even higher on their high-flying trapeze with two and a half weeks to play. JOSEPH DURSO
NEXT UP: The Division and the Pennant
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